February 21, 2020

5 years since Benazir left us

Today all eyes in Pakistan are on Bilawal Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto’s son, who is expected to launch his political career at a massive gathering in Garhi Khuda Bux – the place where his mother was buried five years ago.

December 27 marks Benazir’s death anniversary. Slowly, as the date approached, billboards started going up across Karachi and wherever I drove BB, as we all refer to her, looked down on us. It still seems unreal.

She was killed shortly after her triumphant return from self-exile in London to Pakistan in 2007. Her homecoming parade from Karachi airport was targeted by twin bomb blasts. Three months later they assassinated her in Liaquat Bagh in the city of Rawalpindi up north.

This time, at least I had thought, after being prime minister twice, BB would have been different. She returned a seasoned politician with a different agenda. But the gun-and-bomb combination ended that speculation.

Given the tide of sentiment over her death – and almost every Pakistani mourned her in some way – her political party swept the 2008 elections soon after and her husband, Asif Zardari, was made president. Bilawal was put in charge of the party, even though he was still in university. Zardari chaired the meetings in his absence. And while it was clarified yesterday that Bilawal would be too young the contest the elections that are around the corner in 2013, he is expected to make some kind of announcements today at the gathering.

Bilawal has spent most of his life outside Pakistan and I hear that his Urdu speech has been written in English lettering. I’m not sure he speaks Sindhi and will be watching to see if he ventures into this linguistic territory.

Benazir Bhutto’s party, the PPP, has for the first time completed a full term in office running the government. It was not as lucky before. In 1986 she returned from exile to lead the PPP in a campaign for fresh elections. In 1988 the PPP won the elections, but she was dismissed as PM by 1990. In 1993, the president and PM at the time resigned under pressure from the military. General elections brought Benazir Bhutto back to power but for a second time her government was dismissed in 1996.

Much of the talk today is about Bilawal’s speech, but I do not expect him to say much aside from some emotional recall of his mother’s sacrifice. He may go over the ‘achievements’ of the PPP government at the federal and provincial levels.

What would have really made an impression and indeed given Bilawal’s career a real ‘debut’ is the disclosure of who killed BB. There have been investigations but till today no one has clarified to the country who was behind her murder. For the PPP government there has been little excuse insofar as they have been in power and could have pursued the matter properly and made it public.

All I can assume from the lack of disclosure is that either the information implicates people/entities they cannot disclose for security reasons or they simply don’t know. I find both scenarios hard to believe. I don’t feel we will ever gain closure until we actually know.

As for the men, women and children on the street and in the neighbourhoods of Pakistan’s cities and villages, conspiracy theory is all they have to go by.

My grandmother told me just yesterday that she was convinced it was an American plot with Jewish/Israeli undertones. I didn’t really have much to counter her theories because no hard facts have been properly brought to light.

I would have hoped that as the PPP government wrapped up its tenure for the first time in history, they would have commemorated her sacrifice by naming her killers.